Just started Tim Conder’s book The Church in Transition. So far, it’s the best treatment I’ve read on existing churches in an emerging culture.
Many have written off existing (some call these inherited or traditional) churches. Conder disagrees:
I believe the existing church is still a viable, needed, and fruitful expression of Christian community in our culture. In other words, I don’t think the existing church is a candidate for reformation by extermination. I don’t hope for the demise of the existing church. Like many of Christ’s followers, I have many frustrations with the existing church…
But inevitably, the moment I lapse into a state of religious self-righteousness and arrogant confidence that proclaims I know something that you don’t but should, I’m surprised and appropriately shamed by the depth and quality of the existing church…I am constantly surprised and humbled by the creativity, passion, and effectiveness I witness in churches that are not on the cutting edge of the emerging culture conversation.
Conder describes attending gatherings where little hope is expressed for the existing church. He says, “It’s easy to assume the church never changes. But I sense this tone changing for two reasons.”
One is that even a cursory study of church history reveals that the church eventually adapts to cultural change. This change can be frighteningly slow and with many embarrassments along the way – see the flat earth theory, monkey trials, and support of slavery for evidence. Nevertheless, the unique blessing of the presence of God’s Spirit in the church assures eventual changes in the direction of God’s mission…
Secondly, Conder says, the emerging culture is already having a profound impact on the exiting church by fostering “a new language and conceptualization of ministry” that runs deeper than methodology or style. The real questions aren’t about style in any case. They’re more theological and how to live faithfully in a culture that has never existed before. (Vanhoozer calls this improvisation in The Drama of Doctrine.)
I think Conder’s right. I’m all for new and innovative churches – but I don’t think God’s done with existing churches just yet.